Many generous donors have created scholarships for places that matter to them. Discover the stories behind five of our scholarships that have a deep sense of place.
Bill and Virginia Ralls Darr Scholarship
Virginia and Bill Darr keep track of what their 40-plus past scholarship recipients are up to now.
The jobs vary: Banker. Science teacher. Medical school student. Agriculture specialist. Special education teacher. Accountant. Sports medicine professional. Graphic artist.
But each of these professionals has something in common.
They all started in Ellington, Missouri, a small town about three hours east of Springfield. They all attended Missouri State.
And they all benefited from the generosity of the Darrs, two Missouri State graduates who have done amazing things for their alma mater through the years.
Honoring their hometown by helping others
Bill and Virginia both grew up in Ellington. In fact, Virginia’s father, a doctor, delivered Bill.
They dated in high school, but each married someone else.
They both attended MSU in the 1950s.
Years later, after Virginia had been a divorced single mother and Bill’s first wife died of leukemia, they reconnected. They married in 1988.
They don’t live in Ellington, but they do keep a family farm in the town of about 980 people.
“We love to go back,” Virginia said.
“We sit on the porch and watch the pickups go by,” Bill said.
“If somebody sees our car there,” Virginia said, “they’ll stop and come up on the porch and visit.”
Ellington is in Reynolds County. It’s a largely rural area known for rugged beauty and outdoor activities. There are lakes, springs, state parks and conservation areas to explore.
The Ozark National Scenic Riverways, the first federally protected river system in the U.S., is nearby. So is the Mark Twain National Forest.
However, the area does have challenges.
The county’s median household income is $36,736, according to 2017 U.S. Census estimates. By comparison, Missouri’s median household income is $49,593. The national median household income is $55,322.
Census figures show that about 20.4 percent of the county’s population lives below the poverty line. That percentage increases for those younger than 18.
“Many of their parents work, it’s just that it could be a hardship on them to send their students to college,” Virginia said.
In the 1990s, the Darrs decided to offer those families some support.
“Ellington school was important to us, and Missouri State was important to us. So, we decided it would be good to put the two together — to take kids from Ellington, and offer them scholarships,” Bill said. “We started out with one scholarship, and it mushroomed after a while.”
Now, they offer multiple scholarships. Chris Bouma is the grade 6-12 counselor at Ellington High School. He is also a 2002 graduate of Missouri State’s graduate program in counseling. He promotes financial aid opportunities to Ellington’s students.
“My job is very easy when it comes to that particular scholarship, since our students and their families are so familiar with the Darrs and their generosity. Matter of fact, the Darrs make every attempt each year to come back to Ellington for graduation and present the scholarships in person. We are very blessed to have the opportunity to have such a great family that cares so much for our students.”
First recipient: “I don’t think it’s measurable”
That first-ever scholarship went to Christina Clemons, now Christina Cook.
“It was completely a surprise. I found out at high school graduation,” Cook said.
That was the first time she met the Darrs. Since then, they have been a strong support network.
They even visit her parents’ diner, Spooners, when they’re in Ellington.
“What was really great about the Darrs was they made it a personal effort,” she said.
“They would invite you to their home, and to company parties and events. They were really introducing you to a whole different lifestyle. What they did for me was really special. It’s not just a scholarship, it was a whole experience.”
Cook earned a bachelor’s degree in agriculture in 2002.
In 2003, she married an Army service member. His assignments took them around the world.
“I didn’t find it easy to work while transitioning from one place to the other, so we decided I would stay home and raise our three kids.”
While they were living in Hawaii, she earned a master’s in managerial economics from a University of Oklahoma executive program.
The Cooks came back to Missouri in 2017.
“Moving back here, the Darrs were the first people I called,” she said. She found out about open jobs at her current employer through their network.
She’s now a development coordinator for Council of Churches of the Ozarks, overseeing large events and direct-mail campaigns.
“The Darrs are amazing people,” she said. “What they do is more far-reaching than helping just the one person who receives the scholarship. It helps the parents and the community. I don’t think it’s measurable.”
Darrs have a long history of supporting MSU
Gifts to Missouri State
The Darrs have helped MSU build and renovate facilities. They have contributed to academic departments. They have supported everything from athletics to the arts, from libraries to campus landmarks.
The Darrs are especially known for their support of agriculture.
- In 2000, Missouri State renamed the agriculture research facility on Kansas Expressway the William H. Darr Agricultural Center after a significant gift from the family.
- In 2009, the university named an entire academic unit in recognition of the couple’s contributions — the William H. Darr School of Agriculture.
- Bill has served on the Board of Governors and is a past president of the Missouri State University Foundation.
- Bill was the co-chair of the university’s first comprehensive fundraising effort, “The Campaign for SMS: Imagine the Possibilities,” which concluded in 2005 by exceeding its goal of $50 million.
- Lifetime Achievement Award to both Bill and Virginia Darr from the Alumni Association, 2010
- Bronze Bear Award, 2003
- Outstanding Alumni Award, Bill Darr, 1995
“If not for them, I would not be where I am today”
Austin Boyland also said he owes a large part of his career to the Darrs.
He’s a recent scholarship recipient whose family goes back a long way in Ellington.
“In my hometown, the Darr scholarship for MSU is now well-known. It’s a big honor,” Boyland said.
“The students are willing to work for it. We would say to each other, ‘keep your GPA up so you can qualify.’”
At MSU, he earned a bachelor’s in public relations in 2012, and then a master’s in health administration in 2014. “Both degrees were supported by Darr scholarships. They were very generous to me. But they didn’t just give me money. I talked to them all throughout college and I went to dinner and church with them. They helped recipients learn how to navigate in the world.”
Because he had financial assistance, he was able to take an unpaid internship.
“That led to my first job, then promotions,” Boyland said. “If not for them, I would not be where I am today.”
He’s a clinical informaticist at CoxHealth — “you can describe it as I.T. nerd!”
He lives in Springfield and goes back to Ellington about once a month to see family.
One of those family members will soon be joining him as a Bear grad: His younger brother is a current undergraduate recipient of the Darr scholarship.
“What Mr. and Mrs. Darr have done with the scholarship is only a piece of the contributions they have given to the Ellington community,” Boyland said. “They do it quietly. These are people who have incredible hearts, and want to make a positive impact by investing in people.”
Building support for the next generations
The Darrs say offering the scholarships, meeting the students and building relationships with them can build a positive cycle for their hometown and for MSU.
“I want to show them our interest in Ellington,” Bill Darr said, “but I hope it also instills in them the thought to give back at some time in their lives. When they can afford it, if they have a feeling of endearment toward Missouri State, I think they will feel really good about giving back themselves.”
Bob Weekley Memorial Endowed Scholarship
Judy and Bob Weekley had many happy decades together.
After he passed away, Judy wanted to share their happiness with a new generation through the gift of education.
Going from alumnus to athletics fan
Judy started dating Bob in high school.
“We met after a basketball game in Cuba, Missouri. I lived in Owensville, he lived in Steelville. We were rivals!”
He was too friendly for that rivalry to matter.
“He didn’t meet a stranger,” Weekley said. “He was kind and fun, and loved to play practical jokes. But he was also very serious and outspoken about things that mattered to him.”
Bob graduated from high school, then went into the Army. Judy was still in high school.
“We got married a few weeks after I graduated,” Weekley said.
While he was in the service, the G.I. bill — which helps veterans pay for higher education — was not available. He wanted to attend college, though. After two years of service, he enrolled at Missouri State.
“It was tough, money-wise,” Weekley said. “That was one of the main reasons that I thought it was so important to create a scholarship. It may not be everything, but it helps.”
In 1962, Bob earned a bachelor’s degree in education with a minor in psychology. He worked as a sales executive for several international food corporations, and was a coach for youth teams.
The Weekleys lived around the nation. In the late 1980s, they came back to live in Springfield.
They were Lady Bears fans, and the first game after their return was a revelation.
“We couldn’t get in the door — it was even filled up for standing room only! So we sat in the car and listened to the game,” Weekley said. “Bob told me to get a hold of (emeritus director of intercollegiate athletics) Bill Rowe and get some tickets ensured for us!”
After that, they became firm supporters and members of the Fast Break Club, diehard Lady Bear boosters. “We are fans of all the Bears teams. But basketball was very close to our hearts.”
Meeting a grateful student recipient
“Crawford County was where his school was, and my school was in Gasconade County. Both are rural communities,” Weekley said. “I thought I could perhaps give a little bit for a student to be able to go to school and buy books, and be able to work part-time instead of full-time.”
Alexa Rogers is a recent recipient of the Bob Weekley Memorial Endowed Scholarship. She is from Cuba, Missouri, and held the award from her sophomore through senior years.
She built a relationship with Weekley throughout the years, attending scholarship banquets and exchanging letters.
“Judy is the sweetest lady I ever met,” Rogers said. “Our hometowns are neighbors, so it was neat to talk about how they have changed.”
Weekley met some of Rogers’ family members.
“They were able to put a face to this woman who was doing so much for us. She is always welcome in our home!”
Meeting the recipients is a great feeling, Weekley said.
“It just really makes you so proud and so happy for them,” she said. “Alexa is just a delight; my husband would have loved her. That wonderful smile — Bob would have been delighted.”
Rogers graduated in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She had a minor in child and family development, and now works at a local preschool.
She is still taking courses at MSU, studying for a post-baccalaureate teacher certification.
Weekley said she was fortunate to see someone worthy receive a boost because of her.
“Alexa is going to do well in whatever she chooses.”
William K. Berry Strafford High School Scholarship
William K. Berry credits positive experiences in high school, then college, for his successful career.
That’s why he wanted to support others in his hometown as they take a similar path.
Moving full steam ahead to success
When Berry was a freshman at then-SMS, he got a job with the Frisco Railway in Springfield. He worked there through his undergraduate and graduate studies.
His dad worked for the railroad, so Berry grew up around the industry.
“I started in an entry-level job — you name it, I did it,” including cleaning engines and serving as a night watchman.
As his career grew, he served as a manager, director and vice president for companies around the U.S. and Canada.
“I worked for railroads for about 38 years, except for a few years in the Army,” Berry said.
He retired in 2003 as vice president of intermodal services for the Canadian National Railway.
“I would have never achieved what I was able to do without the quality of education from Missouri State,” he said.
The tracks that led to his success were first laid (yes, that’s a railroad reference!) during high school in Strafford.
“I had excellent teachers, and the transition from high school to college was made easier by the education I received there.”
At Missouri State, he majored in agriculture. He earned a bachelor’s degree in 1970. It was comprehensive, so he studied marketing, sales, economics and finance. He also attended graduate courses at Missouri State.
“That helped me earn career advancements,” he said. “In those positions, much of what you do relates to capital requests or budgets. Without my education, I would have been at a loss. It’s good that I came in with those skills.”
Berry has given back to Missouri State in several ways. For example, his support allowed the William H. Darr College of Agriculture to build a state-of-the-art conference room in Karls Hall.
It’s equipped with the communication and media equipment needed to do long-distance networking.
Berry always knew he wanted to set up scholarships at MSU for students from Strafford. In 2005, he finalized his plan.
Some of the many dozens of recipients have studied agriculture, like him, but others have studied everything from English to physical therapy.
He lives in Texas now. Through the years, he has met some of the recipients.
“It’s a great way to give back,” Berry said. “If you have the ability to help students just starting out, I think that’s one of the best things you can do with your resources.”
One recent recipient wrote in a letter to Berry: “I am from Strafford, Missouri, and I am the first to attend college in my family. I graduated in 2015 in a small class of 94 and was salutatorian. … Thank you so much for making it possible for me to continue my education and worry less about finances. I am looking forward
to being able to give back to the community once I begin my career.”
Counselor: “It makes it personal for them”
Brenda Grass is the counselor at Strafford High School, and a 1997 graduate of MSU’s master’s in counseling program.
She advises her students that the Berry scholarships for MSU are available.
Sometimes, she said, earning that financial aid is the deciding factor in whether they will attend Missouri State.
“They are very grateful, and they are excited when I inform them that Mr. Berry is from our school,” Grass said. “When they know his background, it makes it personal for them. They like knowing that someone from the Strafford community is investing in their education.”
Terry Lynn Washam Memorial Scholarship
Alumnus Willis “Willie” Washam paid his way through college by square dancing.
When he lost a beloved family member, Washam decided to honor him by helping other Bears pay their way through school.
Paying tribute to Terry Lynn Washam
Terry Lynn Washam was Willie’s younger brother.
“He worked for the Missouri highway department. They were doing road repairs on Interstate 44. A guy driving a bus without any passengers fell asleep. He went through the barricades and crashed into him.”
The fatal accident happened in fall 1987. By the end of that year, Washam had established a scholarship agreement with MSU. He focused his award on Lawrence County, because he and his two brothers had grown up in Miller, Missouri.
“That was home. At one time, we were probably related to half the people in Miller.”
Washam is still a supporter of the area. He has written a book on the history of Miller. He is also part of a group of people who have formed a nonprofit to support the restoration of a local one-room schoolhouse. They plan to make it into a museum open to the public.
Square dancing with the Promenaders
In the mid-1950s, when Washam was at then-SMS, universities didn’t offer as much financial aid as they do today.
“Did I have a scholarship? Heck, no!” he said.
So, he paid for school another way: By square dancing. Washam was a member of the Promenaders.
This troupe started as a campus club in the late 1940s and blossomed into a phenomenon.
In the early 1950s, they performed at benefits and won regional and national dance contests.
In 1954, they became widely known: The group became a regular fixture on the “Ozark Jubilee,” a weekly live variety TV show based in Springfield. It was hosted by Red Foley and broadcast around the U.S.
In 1955, the exhibition dancers became professionals. They performed with top country music personalities.
“The Promenaders did a long tour with Gene Autry. Both Brenda Lee and Patsy Cline were just starting their careers and had big hits in country and pop music, and we did many shows and became good friends with both,” Washam said.
They danced at venues such as Madison Square Garden.
“Because of the physical activities of it,” Washam said, “you could only do about two dances a night, of no more than five minutes each.”
Washam was paid for performing, but it was time away from school. He did assignments on the road and attended a lot of summer school.
He married his square dance partner Patty Stinnett in 1957 — she’s now Patricia Washam. She attended MSU for a year.
He officially left school in 1958 but, because of his time away for performances, he lacked one class toward a diploma. He finished that course in 1959.
Washam is the co-author of a book about his time at MSU, called “America’s Favorite Square Dancers: L.D. Keller and the Promenaders.”
“Life at SMS was a ball in the good ol’ days!” he said.
After college, the couple moved around the country as Willie Washam scaled the career ladder. He spent 32 years with Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical subsidiaries. He ended his career at the home office in sales management.
“This is probably the most important thing I can say to possible donors: I took advantage of Johnson & Johnson’s matching program. For every dollar I put in to my scholarship, they put in money as well. A lot of companies have matching programs, so that can be really beneficial.”
Recipient: “It was extremely influential on my life”
One of the people helped by his generosity is current student Lauren Barrett. She’s a junior psychology major with a double minor in chemistry and biomedical sciences.
“My long-term goal is to be a physician assistant,” Barrett said.
She’s from Aurora, Missouri.
“I chose MSU because I took a tour. Once I got on campus, and met some students and faculty, MSU just felt like home. I was never more excited to be somewhere.”
She now shares that enthusiasm with incoming Bears. For two years, she has been a SOAR (Student Orientation, Advisement and Registration) leader. Without the Washam award and other scholarships, she said she would not have been able to attend MSU.
“It meant I have the opportunity to pursue higher education, so it was extremely influential on my life. Each year, I send the Washams a thank you letter.”
Now, the Washams live in Springfield half of each year, and Florida the other half.
“If you were born and raised in one area, and your family lived there, then that’s home,” Washam said of Lawrence County. “It’s a pretty good feeling to know you’re supporting people from home.”
Don Kinne Memorial Scholarship Fund
When Gordon Kinne thinks about his dad, Don, he remembers a fun-loving farmer.
“He died too young, about 23 years ago. He was 74 years old.”
Kinne has one sister, Sandra Dodd.
“After dad died, we were trying to think what we could do to honor him. I went to MSU, and so did my sister’s daughter, Corrie Burch (Dodd). We thought creating a scholarship in his honor to draw more students to MSU would be a natural.”
Supporting students with a strong work ethic
Hamilton, Missouri, is the birthplace of entrepreneur J.C. Penney.
Don Kinne graduated from what is now called Penney High School, and so did Gordon.
“I had 65 in my graduating class,” Kinne said. “If you could run 10 yards and not fall over your feet, you got to play football, basketball and go out for track!”
The small town relied on family farming.
“I received a good education and learned a good work ethic there,” Kinne said.
He earned a bachelor’s in political science at Missouri State in 1975.
He is now the president and owner of Med-Pay, a third-party administrator and employee-benefits agency in Springfield.
Kinne has been involved at Missouri State in many capacities. He is the current chair of the Missouri State University Foundation Board of Trustees.
He goes to Hamilton about once a month to visit his mom or sister, or spend time at the family farm.
Hamilton is a community with character but without a lot of wealth, he said.
“I had to borrow money to go to college, so I thought we could do something to help someone else.”
Degree “was the biggest accomplishment”
Shannon Wick received the Kinne Memorial Scholarship during her sophomore, junior and senior years at MSU.
She is a graduate of Hamilton schools. Sandra Dodd, Gordon Kinne’s sister, was Wick’s language arts teacher in middle school — though Wick didn’t know this connection when she earned the award.
“Hearing from her a couple of years ago was a wonderful surprise!” Wick said.
Wick was in the Honors College, and earned a bachelor’s degree in professional writing in spring 2017. She’s now in an MSU master’s program, exploring technical and professional writing.
“My older siblings have degrees, but neither of my parents graduated from college. It meant a lot to me to earn my bachelor’s. It was something my parents always wanted for me, and it was the biggest accomplishment of my life at the time. Next, I will be the first in my family to get a master’s degree.”
She works as a graduate assistant and advisor in the Honors College.
She was grateful to discover that there was a scholarship just for Hamilton students.
“I think this fund shows the family’s prolonged interest in the students there. It shows that their involvement in Hamilton and MSU extends past themselves, and that they want to help you any way they can.”